The word “retire” has never been part of Richard Barrow’s vocabulary.
A self-made man, he grew up on Savannah’s Eastside and dropped out of school in the ninth grade to go to work full-time.
He was beginning to make a name for himself as a mechanic when he was drafted and sent to Vietnam, where he earned the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster for valor.
Returning home, he went to work at a local transmission shop, but it didn’t take long for him to realize he had ideas he couldn’t put into practice working for someone else.
Armed with nothing more than his innate business and leadership skills – and a small loan from a friend – Barrow quit his job and founded Coastal Transmission, which he would own and run for more than 30 years.
He might still be running it if his son Chad hadn’t approached him with a business proposition some 13 years ago.
At the time, Chad was working in the maritime logistics business with a now-defunct packing and crating company and talking to customers who clearly wanted more than he could give them. While he was fairly new to the industry, that just didn’t make sense to the younger Barrow, especially when he heard customers say things like, “My logistics provider is doing a good job, but …”
So he went to his father with a proposition.
“I wanted to start a logistics company that focused on customer service and solutions,” he said. “I wanted to take the ‘but’ out of the equation.”
The elder Barrow was skeptical at first.
“But I did my homework, I talked to people and I kept hearing the same things Chad was saying,” he said. “I began to realize there was room for a logistics company that offered value-added service.” So, he sold Coastal Transmission to start over with Chad.
That was 2004.
A new beginning
“I’ll never forget that first small warehouse, unloading that very first truck by hand and finishing, sweat-soaked, long after midnight,” Chad said.
“Dad looked at me and said, ‘Are you sure this is what you want to be doing?’
“I said yes and that was the last time he asked me.
“He was all in.”
A mere five years later, Chad’s vision and Richard’s business acumen proved to be a powerful combination as Inc. Magazine named Coastal Logistics Group – the “Coastal” borrowed from Barrow’s first endeavor – the second-fastest growing private logistics company in Georgia and the 16th-fastest growing in the nation.
Today, CLG has expanded into a multi-state operation, with five warehouses in Savannah and locations in Charleston, S.C., Memphis, Tenn., Norfolk, Va. and Winston-Salem, N.C.
While he considers it Chad’s business, Richard has always been there, offering his expertise and experience, even as he invested in other businesses and partnerships and made himself available to anyone in the business community who needed his help.
The thought of retiring hadn’t crossed his mind until a knee surgery forced him to take some time off.
“I think he was amazed to come back and not find the place in chaos,” Chad said, laughing.
David Turner, CLG president, agreed.
“Richard is a born leader – always the first to take the reins,” he said.
Barrow’s surgery and recovery took place at a time when CLG’s business model was changing and growing very quickly.
“There were new locations and lots of new accounts and Richard, who was always in the middle of everything, looked at the books and realized that we were not only surviving, we were thriving,” Turner said.
“I think that was when he started thinking that we just might be OK without him.”
Not the typical retirement party
And so, on the Wednesday before Hurricane Irma came to call, family, friends and employees gathered in the warehouse attached to CLG Headquarters on Sonny Perdue Drive to congratulate Richard Barrow on reaching his 71st birthday and finally deciding to slow down a little.
But this wasn’t your typical retirement party. In fact, very few of the dozens of people who took the microphone that day had anything to say about Barrow’s successful 55-year business career.
Instead, they talked about his half-century of caring for his community.
Some talked about the Coastal Transmission Patriot organization he started – a youth football, baseball and cheerleading program open to youngsters in the city.
“Many boys in Savannah remember riding in the back of Coach Barrow’s truck as he picked them up or dropped them off after practice and many still keep in touch,” said his daughter, Debbie Kennedy.
“Throughout his career, he’s always taken the time to give back to the community, serving on a number of boards and donating his time and money to local charities with golf tournaments, clay shoots and other events over the years.”
From employees and friends to business colleagues, everyone seemed to have a personal story of something Richard Barrow did to help them in a time of need.
“Richard’s tough, he’s very competitive, but he’s also a real softy,” said friend Dicky Best. “He’s a very successful businessmen, but he never looks at people in light of their own successes or failures.
“For him, it’s never been about the money, it’s been about being there for other people.”
Perhaps the most poignant example of that is the Band of Brothers, a men’s Bible study group he helped form in his office some 11 years ago with several other men who just wanted to become better husbands, fathers and people.
The group, which has now grown to more than 200 members, is dedicated to spiritually enriching the lives of Savannah’s youth. To that end, the group will hold a special event Saturday from 2-5 p.m. at the Savannah Civic Center.
Students Taking a New Direction – or STAND – is free and open to anyone, but is aimed specifically at 16- to 24-year-olds facing a secular world as they begin college, the military or employment. The afternoon will feature music and ministry and numerous door prizes – including a half-dozen automobiles.
The only catch? You have to be registered and present to win.
“We have a message,” said Barrow, always the savvy businessman. “But first we have to bring the audience in to hear it.”
Mary Carr Mayle, 912-652-0324 or at email@example.com.
Following are the ships expected to call on Georgia Ports Authority’s Garden City and Ocean terminals this week. Schedules are supplied by GPA and are subject to change.
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